We live in a society blessed with perhaps the greatest number of entertainment and artistic mediums that has ever existed in human history. From our ancient oral storytelling tradition evolved song and from it music, from the intertwining of song and story came the beginnings of theater and the performing arts. Writing and prose too sprouted across the world as a way of recording those ancient oral tales.
In the past three centuries, technology has given us new mediums and new platforms to explore stories. Cameras gave us photography, the ability to capture the essence of reality in a single frame where before we could only create painted simulacrums. Film gives us an eternal and repeatable performance in grand theaters and our own homes. The comic strip combined relatively simple art with prose storytelling to give us tales from banal newspaper strips to grand graphic novels, and from these comic strips and illustrations came animation. Eventually the internet arose, bringing with it new and experimental forms of mediums. Podcasts replace the radio plays of old, and even my own web serial is simply the resurrection of a past method of publishing.
But at the core of medium is story (or the deliberate lack of story if you’re feeling post-modern). And these stories, born from one medium, seem to almost inevitably cross into another in the modern day of franchises and adaptations. Who among us hasn’t bemoaned the bad film adaptation of a book, or marveled when our comic book superheroes are brought to life before our eyes? Adaptation has existed since the first writer decided to set the Epic of Gilgamesh to tablet, and it has had a divisive history ever since.
In the transference of a story through mediums, the immediate gain is obvious. When books are adapted to movies, what we once had to imagine can now be shown to us in live color and surround sound, featuring our most beloved actors. Or there is the reverse, when the frenetic energy and rapid pace of a movie has time and space to be decompressed into novel form. The desire to see our favorite works adapted is obvious. To be adapted means to be popular, and to see the audience expanded. But what is lost?
The immediate pitfalls are something we all see. Adaptation Distillation can make berserkers of us all as favored background characters and subplots are altered or cut away entirely. Roles are miscast and what was inspiring in one form becomes bland in another. But perhaps there is more to it than the simple disappointment of fans.
A favored author of mine is famous comic author, snake worshipper, and generally frightening person Alan Moore. Mr. Moore has a long history and reputation of being a hateful curmudgeon, disowning all adaptations of his work and refusing to let his name be on them (with one or two standout exceptions). However, closer examinations of his critique and his statements (although he is certainly prone to infuriated outburst and eccentricity) point to a man committed to his medium, who has little faith in the transferal process.
So we must ask yourself, is that such a bad thing? Moore is a comic author, and a damn good one. He knows not only what makes a story work but what makes a comic story work. As opposed to a novel story or a film story, a comic story is one that is inherently one with its medium. To adapt it to film or prose or song is to not only butcher the adaptation, but to remove an inherent part of the work’s soul.
I am not an angry old man on his lawn chair. In the past few days alone I have seen TV shows adapted from comics, movies adapted from TV shows, and movies adapted from comics, and enjoyed them all thoroughly. It is, however, important I believe to look beyond what is cut and what is added when a story is adapted to another medium. Look deeper, and try to see why a book was written as a book instead of a movie, and how much of that might have been lost in the process. The goal of understanding is never to hate or find reason to hate, it is simply to become more aware.